2011 Tech Survey: EHRs Driving Practice Management Software Decisions

When it comes to practice management software, it appears more physician practices are aligning their purchases with another big health IT investment: their EHR.

Note: This is the third in a series of blog entries delving into the results of our 2011 Physicians Practice Technology Survey. Full results of our latest technology survey are now available at www.physicianspractice.com/technology-survey.

When it comes to practice management software, it appears more physician practices are aligning their purchases with another big health IT investment: their EHR.

According to data from the Physicians Practice 2011 Technology Survey, 30 percent of practices bought their current practice management software between one and four years ago, a time frame that would put them in line to meet Stage 1 of CMS' meaningful use requirements through their EHR. Of that 30 percent, 31 percent were independent practices and 28 percent were either owned by a hospital or in an integrated care network.

"The EHR has become center stage, so people are making decisions about their practice management software based on the EHR they want," says consultant Mary Pat Whaley of Manage My Practice LLC.

Whaley says practices looking into purchasing a new or upgraded EHR are using compatibility with their current practice management software as a key determining factor. Those happy with their software may select an EHR from the same vendor and those not so pleased with their current software may choose a new system altogether.

In working with a seven-physician bariatric specialty group in North Carolina, Whaley said the practice loved their current practice management software, so she recommended they select the EHR that matches it. Whaley and the group did explore an EHR geared specifically toward bariatric surgery, but comfort with their current system was a strong factor in the group's final decision.

"One of the things important to them was having scheduling from the practice management system wrapped into the EHR, so even though the EHR was going to be brand new to them, it already had a look and feel that was comfortable to them," she said. "The actual screen on the EHR looked like the screen on their practice management software … so there was a comfort level there."

In addition to the 30 percent that purchased their practice management software within the last four years, another 28 percent bought their system more than 4 years ago, but less than 10 years ago, according to our survey.

Lin Dworshak, senior business development specialist with Pensacola, Fla.-based billing firm MedPro Solutions, says that this combined 58 percent of practices that purchased practice management software within the last 10 years makes sense given the increased attention on EHRs and achieving "meaningful use."

"People are looking for an all-in-one solution, so eventually, I believe, what is going to happen is that the EHR is going to feed directly into the billing system," Dworshak said. Ideally, she says, the billing code will go right from the EHR to the practice management system without anyone in the middle to transfer that data via paper or electronic approval.

Both Dworshak and Whaley also note that practice management software increasingly features regular system upgrades - either as a part of the initial purchase or as extra costs - adding to the longevity of these systems. This explains why some practices have had the same software in place for nearly a decade.

Only 14 percent said their software was more than 10 years old; an additional 17 percent said they are currently not using practice management software at all.

So whether you bought your current system a year ago, four years ago, or a decade ago, the key is to be sure what you have works for you, Whaley adds.

"There is a huge investment for a practice management system, and not just financial," she says. "It is a huge investment in time, labor, and resources and if you do decide to change your system it is not small potatoes."